Don't make it good, make it true: one question that could revolutionise the way you make your art, and really help you to make the art that is most 'you'

Do you want to make good art? I’m guessing you probably do.

We all want to get better at the things we do, right? Improving skills, learning, being a better ‘something’ – we love that stuff. We’re trained to, right from the first time an adult approves of us for mastering something, whether it’s walking or tying a bow or stacking blocks.

Achievement {and in particular, mastery} = happiness. Apparently.

And yet over and over, I see people struggling inside that paradigm, perhaps without even realising it. They get stuck because they don’t know how to take a painting forward, or because they ‘ruined’ one, or because they keep procrastinating and don’t know why, or because they find drawing figures in proportion really hard. {Sidenote: It IS really hard for most of us, at least at first!} And they think they’re not ‘good at art’, or can’t call themselves artists, let alone ‘good’ ones.

To be clear, this is not about dismissing the deep satisfaction that comes from developing skills and mastering things. Nor is it about diminishing your own dreams and desires for your art. There’s a difference, however, between wanting to learn for the joy and personal satisfaction of it, and wanting be a ‘good’ artist who makes ‘good’ art. And it can be hard to disentangle the two.

I don’t teach people how to be good artists. While there is absolutely a place for understanding concepts and techniques, and having at least a basic grasp of painting fundamentals like composition, values, and colour, {and I do often include elements of those in my courses,} I have no interest in whether or not you are a good artist.


I want so much more for you than that.


Truly, anyone can learn the basics, if they want to. {And if they want to, anyone can also become really skilled at the more advanced things.} Knowing how to suggest a narrative in a painting, or create a feeling of space and distance, or draw an accurate likeness, are useful skills if that’s where your interests lie. {I’m emphasising these phrases for a reason!}

In fact I would suggest that to get where you want to go with your art, it’s essential to have a basic understanding of the components of a painting that ‘works’. In part that does come intuitively, especially over time, but it also takes some work and effort and practice.

Having the basics creates a bedrock of confidence and freedom to do more interesting things with your art.

Beyond that however, I don’t believe in striving to make good art or to be a good artist. In fact, I think those are two ideas that could end up stifling and confusing you.

So you might be thinking at this point, ok Tara, I kind of see what you’re saying, but if I’m not supposed to be a good artist, or make good art, what the heck AM I supposed to be doing?

Well you can remove the ‘supposed to’ for starters. 😉

The way I see it is that the happiest artists are not necessarily the most technically skilled ones. If being technically skilled is your happy place, then yes of course, wonderful. But what if it isn’t? I’ll be the first to admit to not being technically brilliant when it comes to realism. But then I have zero interest in making realistic art, let alone being good at it. And I’m a very happy artist. 🙂

For me, it’s about something else entirely.

It’s all about expression.

From where I’m sitting, the happiest artists are not always the ones trying to be {or even being} good artists; they’re the ones expressing themselves from their truest place.

Huge difference.

And the irony is of course, that when we express from the true place, our art becomes ‘better’. More cohesive, more recognisable, and more obviously vibrating with a resonant and unique hum that’s just ours.

If I could offer one piece of advice to aspiring artists, I’d say, get a good grounding in the basics, especially the ones you love most, and then forget about making good art. Forget about being a good artist.

‘Good’ is such an arbitrary word. Good by whose standards? If you’re putting your work up against an artist with work in a gallery, then it’s the gallery’s standard, and the standard of its customers. If you want to have your work in a gallery, you will have to abide by their definition of good. But just remember it’s not the ultimate definition. If a gallery turns you down, that doesn’t mean your work is no good. It might mean you need to get a bit more experience, or refine some skills, or simply that your work isn’t a good fit for that gallery. But it’s never a comment on your worth as an artist, even if the demons insist that it is.

As far as I’m concerned, ‘good’ is a word that is not helpful, supportive, or useful for you or your art. But if you’re going to use it as a gauge, make very sure that you’ve defined it for yourself. It’s when we let others define our words for us that things get messy.

If you’re making art that expresses something true to {and for} you; if you’re deriving delight and satisfaction in the physical process of creating; if you’re making art that doesn’t always work in the way you’d like but you willingly continue to experiment and learn from it; those things are so much more important, and will take you so much further, than worrying about whether you are any good as an artist, or if your work is good.

By my definition, a ‘good’ artist {if I were ever to use that word, which I wouldn’t} is an artist who is deeply expressing the truth of who they are through their art. That’s what will make it recognisable, what will give it emotion and power, and what will most fulfil the artist who makes it.

So let’s scrap ‘good’ {which is far too closely related to ‘good enough’}, or at the very least redefine it on our own terms.

Let’s not ask, is it good?, but instead, is it true?

What do you think? Do you get stuck wanting to be a good artist and make good art, perhaps without realising? How would you define good? Do you think that removing that word might free you up to be the happy artist you want to be? Tell me in the comments! {And if you’re on Instagram and want to share your thoughts there, don’t forget to use the #happyartistmovement hashtag!}